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First and Second Loves

Columnist: Lawrence Amaturo
March, 2018 Issue

Lawrence Amaturo
All articles by columnist

My first love from California was (and still is) my wife, Susan Chinn Amaturo. My second love was Rafanelli Vineyards Zinfandel. I’m not so sure the first would have happened if not for the second.

Our first date was in November of 1997 at a tiny Italian restaurant, tucked behind San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel. Luckily for me, what was planned as a brief introduction turned into an opportunity for dinner, albeit a “chaperoned” version complete with two other couples. It was a cute little place, but one with a monstrous wine list. Somehow it fell upon me to choose the wine for the table, and I didn’t have a clue about wine and found myself struggling through each successive page of this mammoth list. Thank goodness the words of my friend, Terry Lindley, echoed through my head as Susan and our other tablemates expectantly awaited my decision. Weeks earlier, Terry had taken it upon himself to help me “unlearn” all that I thought I knew about these noble grapes. He had a gracious, but direct way of communicating, and he must of known that I’d appreciate the taste of Rafanelli’s famous winemaking style. “Even backwater folk like you can appreciate Zinfandel,” Terry advised

So I ordered the Rafanelli and hoped for the best. When the bottle was uncorked, and I had my first taste, the smooth, sweet and peppery flavor that is the hallmark of Zinfandel was just the thing for my inexperienced palette. Thankfully, that bottle of Rafanelli was good enough for my wife-to-be as well—crisis avoided! As for my friend, Terry, he was right. Though I was “backwater” when it came to wine, that bottle of Rafanelli simply amazed everyone at our table that evening. That first date led to a second, and Susan and I married three years later, eventually settling in Sonoma County. We’ve gravitated toward Cabernet Sauvignon as the years have progressed, but Rafanelli remains a favorite.

The North Bay’s wine scene is certainly different than the scene I was accustomed to growing up along Fort Lauderdale beach. I was wholly unprepared for the ubiquitous presence of wine. To us Floridians, ordering a “red” meant a syrupy-sweet rum runner, while ordering “white” meant an equally saccharine piña colada.

I hope you enjoy our Business of Wine issue this month. Living in Wine Country for the past 22 years, I’ve come to appreciate the world-class wines produced in this region as well as the winemaking families, which are an integral part of this industry. What began as Jess Jackson’s single-minded pursuit to craft the perfect Chardonnay, for example, has blossomed into a world-wide company overseen by a dozen or so members of the Jackson and Hartford families. As chief executive officer, Rick Tigner expertly oversees the work of these go-getters to make this family-owned enterprise run like the global leader that it is.

The cover story, “If Old Vines Could Talk,” is a profile of Seghesio Family Vineyards. Written by Cerrissa Kim and Petter Westby, it takes a look at how one family cultivated a thriving winery and survived Prohibition, one of their greatest challenges. Sold to Crimson Wine Group in 2011, the company has found a way to leverage the Seghesio’s family feel with the help of Ted Seghesio, great grandson of the founder. Be sure to read all about Gundlach Bundschu Winery in “Great Tastes.” Also known as “Gun Bun,” the winery is celebrating its 160th anniversary this month, and is rolling forward with its sixth generation of ownership.

Only a handful of wineries were directly impacted by the firestorm of October 8th. Jean Doppenberg’s story, “Aftermath,” takes a look at the destruction leveled on wineries such as Santa Rosa’s Paradise Ridge and its road to recovery as well as the impact on tourism and the hospitality industry. How these businesses are moving forward is both touching and inspiring. Their lessons can teach us all a thing or two about rising from the ashes and moving forward after the worst firestorm in California history.

As I begin my third month as your publisher, I thank you for the many kind wishes I’ve received. I’m also thankful for your patience as I find my way, helping the great team of professionals I’ve inherited at NorthBay biz. Please stay in touch at




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